Adventures of an Applications Engineer - Part 3

Posted by Mary St. John on Sep 28, 2017 1:05:00 PM

Wine + IoT = yum + engineering fun

wine glassIn my last post, I talked about beer and some hard deadlines at the end of a season. This time, let’s talk about wine and a different kind of season: harvest season!

During that Big Game, and since then, you might’ve seen some ads showing farmers in fields with iPads.

Well, I’ve met them.

The Internet of Things for agriculture

These farmers are connecting their thingslike moisture probes, pressure sensors, irrigation valves, and pumpsto the Internet (or locally using Internet technologies). And I’m happy to help.

System integrator Farm Data Systems (FDS) even showed up at the Opto 22 factory bearing samples of the products they help produce: wine and nuts (pistachios, not some people I know). Bringing OptoMary wine will very quickly get you bumped to the top of my favorites list!

The most exciting part of IoT for ag is how, with today’s modern tools like groov and Node-RED, connecting those devices in the field to various databases or other services is both easy and fun. So easy that I barely got them going before they could see the possibilities and run with them.

groov Box in the field uses IoT tools but is connected locally

These tools can be used whether the field devices are actually Internet-connected or just running locally, maybe without even leaving the enclosure in the field.

Like everyone else, winegrape growers and winemakers are interested in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and key performance indicators (KPIs). They want to save energy and water—and therefore money—and they want to record data for analyzing later or for predicting failures BEFORE they happen.

The sooner you notice an increase in the current draw by an expensive pump, sense a spike in vibration or temperature, or measure water flow that shouldn’t be there, the sooner you can take corrective action to make sure that the expensive pump doesn’t burn itself up, or a water line break doesn’t ruin the next harvest of OptoMary’s favorite wine. (This may or may not be as important as making sure you can see a football game. We all have our priorities.)

These wise winemakers and farm system integrators taught me about a few other priorities I hadn’t considered before, at least not in these terms. As they put it, they need to:

  • "Reproduce success"
  • Avoid having to "roll a truck"
  • Capture "wet code"

Reproduce success

For example, last year’s crop was awesome; how did we do that? I like this quote I found on the Scheid Vineyards website: “QUALITY IS NEVER AN ACCIDENT. IT IS ALWAYS THE RESULT OF INTELLIGENT EFFORT.”  (Penned by John Ruskin, artist/writer/philosopher, 1819–1900)

While we can’t quite control the weather, if we know temperatures and how much moisture was in the ground for that last excellent crop, it’s easier to come close to similar conditions again this year. But only if you have the data.

Avoid rolling the truck

"How did you fix the problem last time?" is a favorite question we like to ask. Often the answer is to cycle power on whatever was misbehaving. But it costs a lot to send someone out just to flip a switch on a device.

Cycling power is dead easy to do with a simple output module—but only if you’ve connected it ahead of time. And just one avoided trip out to that remote box could easily pay for that extra remote-controlled power switch.

Wine barrels at Scheid VineyardsCapture wet code

Both wine and code can be pretty dry, and I've come to appreciate "wet code": the knowledge in the heads of people who know lots of stuff.

But as much as possible, wet code from experienced, soon-to-be-retiring experts needs to be turned into "dry code": the logic in the monitoring and control systems.

And it’s good to have some backup, whether you’re new or experienced.

When I asked the guy in the field with the iPad what’s his biggest worry? What’s keeping him up at night? He mentioned the reservoir and making sure it’s always wet. While we can set up all kinds of sensors and emails and alerts, often a picture is worth a lot more (especially for a guy who might not entirely trust all that new tech).

These days, cameras are relatively cheap. A quick glance at a smartphone’s groov page with a video gadget or some pretty trend lines can provide something hard to quantify: his peace of mind.

And a new word... 

Another side benefit of working on these ag apps: it’s fun to use the word evapotranspiration!

  • What worry could you minimize with a little bit of monitoring or control in your smartphone?
  • What kind of successes would you like to repeat?
  • How often do you roll a truck when a little bit of tech could save you a trip?
  • What’s in the wet code of heads near you that could evaporate at any moment?

Let us know at: systemseng@opto22.com. Or contact our helpful engineers.

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Topics: Food & beverage, groov, Internet of Things, IoT, Integrators, IIoT, Industrial Internet of Things, Node-RED, Data acquisition

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